Don't Worry Darling

 Everyman Bristol

It’s the 1950s, again, and everything is much too perfect. Alice (Florence Pugh) lives in a much too perfect house and cooks much too perfect food for her much too perfect husband (Harry Styles). They have much too much perfect sex on the dining room table and spill the dinner on the much too perfect dining room carpet. At nine o'clock all the much too perfect guys go off to work in their colour coordinated cars and the women drink cocktails round the pool and go to ballet classes. A suspiciously small number of much too perfect children are occasionally glimpsed. The men are not allowed to talk about their much too perfect jobs.

But there is a wry, unexpected twist. It turns out that not everything is as perfect as it appears on the surface! Alice observes one of her neighbours (who has dared to wonder what is really going on) slitting her own throat, falling from a building, and being carried off by mysterious figures in red jumpsuits. But when she tells husband Jack and her doctor what she has seen, they assure her that she imagined it, and Margaret merely had an embarrassing fall and is in hospital with a couple of stitches.

What is really going on? Will it turn out that Alice is a super-powerful mutant being contained by Franklin Richards's old nanny? Is she in a prison camp for agents who have resigned from the British Secret Service? Are they unwittingly participating in a long-running reality TV experiment? Are the husbands working on a secret project which causes local teenagers to have wistful, slow moving super-science vignettes? Are super-intelligent machines using the human race as a source of bio-energy? Or is something very much less interesting going on?

I quite often go and see films which are a bit of a slog at the time, but have sufficient ideas in them that I am glad I stayed the course. Not pointing the finger at the North Man or Gawain and the Green Knight. I recently remained conscious through ninety minutes of Tilda Swinton reading out the last chapter of Olaf Stapleton to a black and white montage of modern abstract Icelandic artworks, although I probably will not repeat the experience.

This was very much the opposite. I found the film compelling all the way through, even when it seemed to be cycling round the same plot points over and over. I liked the two main characters: Pugh does a really good job at trying to appear normal and happy and perfect while everyone is trying to make her doubt her own sanity; Styles remains utterly nice and likeable even as it becomes clearer and clearer that he is in on the Big Secret. He convinces us that he's up to his eyes in a Bad Thing but still honestly thinks he's being kind. It helps that he is quite shamelessly good looking: you could imagine him in some kind of boy band. Chris "not Kirk" Pine's portrayal of Frank, the mysterious science geek who runs the whole show, feels more like a "turn", but that's probably the fault of the material. It's all very well to make an ensemble of 1950s couples out of central casting to chant Freedom Is Slavery, but there needs to be a point or a punchline to it. If you predicate a film on a question, there has to be an answer: preferably a simple one you can apprehend in a single image. All Orson Welles really ever wanted was to be loved by his Mommy. Charlton Heston was on Earth the whole time. A certain person in a certain film is already dead. Without a point it's not a film, it's a shaggy dog story. Not even a particularly good one.

A year or three back, I saw a production of A Dolls House at the Alma. It's a dated play; speaking to an era when the idea that a woman might walk out of a dysfunctional relationship was very shocking and radical. But the scenario did succeed in getting a reaction out of the the audience: a palpable ripple of disgust. when Torvald says that he is pleased that his wife has almost ruined them financially, because by forgiving her he is more like a proper man and she is more like the little woman; and even a round of applause when he tells Nora that she is a wife and mother and she replies "I am a human being first." But perhaps the message that an idyllic world of perfect domesticity is not the highest thing that a woman can aspire to; and that middle-class suburbs can be a kind of prison is not as brave and radical a feminist statement in the 21st century as it was in the 19th. (There are black people in Perfectville, but no one is gay or trans.)

We live in a world of anti-vaxers, climate denialists, QAnon, flat-Earthers. Cultural Marxists, Fake News Media, Elites, the Woke Mob are secretly running the whole show. Isolated souls shout from the margins that "everything is a lie" but they are carted off to mental asylums by red-garbed agents of the Cancel Culture. Despite its trivially feminist message, I am deeply ill at ease with this film. The thought that everything you think you know is a lie and that one person might smash through and discover the Truth is insidious and dangerous; it has already given us Trump and Brexit. I do not say that anyone involved in making the film intend it to be read that way: I do say that that is how a relatively large number of dangerous individuals will read it. 

Red pill or blue pill. Wake up, sheeple.


I'm Andrew.

I am trying very hard to be a semi-professional writer and have taken the leap of faith of down-sizing my day job.

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Gavin Burrows said...

Granted, yours seems the more common response. But this seems to me to be based around asking What Will The Great Reveal Be?, as a kind of pivotal question. There’s other ways to watch films. I’d say it was a film whose 'meaning' lay in its aesthetic. It becomes clear enough this isn’t The Fifties but The Fifties As We Like To Think They Were with the cocktail parties and great music but without the racial prejudice. It’s based on creating the dichotomy where we find it seductive, we want to stay there even as we spot it’s not real. Alice’s… um… *other* life is presented as very much far from perfect, not the freedom that feminist empowerment brought. (David Lynch treats the Fifties in a similar way, even if he’s a different type of film-maker.)

The last para reads a little strange to me, particularly for a film who based their bad guy on Jordan Peterson. The film seems filled with images of confinement than falsehood, the glass, the clingfilm and so on. Honest question, you’d be against any modern Philip K Dick adaptations given the current climate?

Chinhead said...

Your issue with this is that it signals to the Right?

Andrew Rilstone said...

Not as a strong as an issue, really. Just a kind of gut feeling that "reality is an illusion, everything you know is a lie" stories aren't as much fun when powerful and influential people taken them seriously.